The Rufa red knot’s epic annual migration from Tierra del Fuego to the Canadian Arctic risks being grounded by climate change
Chris Mooney for the Washington Post
Monday 29 December 2014 14.00 GMT
They call him Moonbird, or sometimes, just “B95” – the number from the band on his leg. Moonbird is the most famous, charismatic member of a group of mid-sized shorebirds named Rufa red knots, whose numbers have plummeted so dramatically in the past several decades that they just became the first bird ever listed under the Endangered Species Act with climate change cited as a “primary threat”.
Rufa red knots are among the avian world’s most extreme long-range flyers (especially in light of their relatively small size). They travel vast distances – some flying more than 29,000km – in the course of an annual migration that begins in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and extends all the way up to the Canadian Arctic(and back again).
Which brings us to Moonbird’s distinction: because he is so old – he is at least 21 – he is believed to have flown as many as 640,000km in his lifetime. The distance to the moon varies, depending on where it is in its orbit, but the average distance is about 380,000km. Thus, Moonbird has not only flown the distance it takes to reach the moon – he has also covered the bulk of the return voyage.